First Lady Laura Bush and Librarian of Congress James Billington opened the first National Book Festival in a brief public ceremony on the Neptune Plaza of the Library of Congress at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, September 8, 2001. Inspired by the success of the Texas Book FestivalExternal, Bush founded the National Book Festival with the Library of Congress during her first year in the White House.
The event featured sixty award-winning and/or nationally-known authors and illustrators of books for adults and children. The authors, who also signed their books, were joined by fifteen NBA players promoting the league’s “Read to Achieve” program. The festival also included musical performances, consultations with some of the Library’s experts, and demonstrations of Library of Congress programs and services. Approximately 30,000 people attended presentations until 5:00 p.m. that day, inside and on the grounds of the Library of Congress and on the east lawn of the United States Capitol. Based on its initial success, the festival become an annual event held in September or October each year.
Over time, the National Book Festival’s venue migrated from the Library and the Capitol’s east lawn to the National Mall, and finally to the indoor DC Convention Center. The 2020 and 2021 festivals were held online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Recordings of most of the presentations from past National Book Festival events are available as videos on the Library’s website and/or via the Library of Congress YouTube Channel.
Before the first National Book Festival, the Library commissioned Texas painter Lu Ann Barrow to create original artwork for a poster to commemorate the event. In June 2001, the Library gave copies of the poster to attendees of the American Library Association’s annual conference, and then mailed copies to bookstores, schools, and libraries in and around Washington, D.C., along with a letter encouraging the recipients to help publicize the festival. More free posters were distributed during the festival, when Barrow was on hand to sign them. A few observant attendees noticed that Barrow had painted herself into the poster’s image: she is the woman in the foreground in the red floral print dress.
Once the National Book Festival became an annual event, so did the release of a festival poster. All of the National Book Festival posters are available through an online gallery on the festival’s website. Admirers may download digital copies for display on screens, or to print for display in homes, offices, classrooms, or libraries.
Now a yearly tradition, the National Book Festival continues to be funded by a variety of corporate sponsors and private donors who share with the Library of Congress a commitment to reading and literacy.
- Learn more about the National Book Festival’s past, present, and future on the National Book Festival Program webpage.
- For more details and twenty-one photographs from the 2001 festival, see “The Joy of the Written Word”: Library and First Lady Host First National Book Festival by Gail Fineberg, in Library of Congress Information Bulletin (LCIB), October 2001. Search for more articles about the National Book Festival from 2001 to 2011.
- Read the Library of Congress Blog post 20 Years Ago Today: Remembering the First Festival, by John Sayers, September 8, 2021. Search this blog’s archives for other essays about the National Book Festival and other events. Do the same with the National Book Festival Blog.
- Read more about the History of the National Book Festival and from there, view the video A Brief History of the National Book Festival, 2001-2018 created by two 2018 Library of Congress Junior Fellows, which features the voices of some of the people who have made the National Book Festival successful year after year.
- Find other book fairs, storytelling festivals and literary events across the United States through the Affiliate Centers for the Book located in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam and Northern Marianas.